Analysis: Bin Laden, burqa ban put France in Qaeda crosshairs

By John Irish and Nick Vinocur

PARIS (BestGrowthStock) – Aggressive intelligence gathering and some of the toughest anti-terror laws in Europe have helped France thwart Islamist terror attacks for 15 years, but a new call to arms by Osama bin Laden has the country on high alert.

Unlike Britain and Spain, France has never been attacked by al Qaeda at home, despite being a NATO member that took part in the invasion of Afghanistan and still having troops there.

Yet fresh tensions over Afghanistan, France’s ban on full-length Islamic veils and bin Laden’s picking out of France as a specific target have alarmed security officials who say the risks have never been so high for the French.

“It is a period that will be tough,” a source close to the defense ministry told Reuters. “It is more worrying this year than ever before. It’s not bluff, it’s not politics.”

Bin Laden’s speech last month backing the kidnapping of a group of French people by al Qaeda’s North African wing, AQIM, and a separate warning to Paris from that group last week, have fanned tensions ahead of Christmas and as France prepares to host high-profile G20 gatherings next year.

Too isolated today to launch his own attacks, bin Laden can still easily mobilize militants faithful to him, and his message aired on al-Jazeera television last month will be read as a green light for a French attack, intelligence sources say.

Potential targets include nuclear power plants, the undersea Channel Tunnel to Britain and Paris’s transport network, which was struck in 1995 by Algerian militants in a metro station bombing that was the country’s last terrorist attack.

“(With) an average of two fairly serious attacks being thwarted each year, well, one of them will eventually succeed,” said Francois Heisbourg, a senior security expert at the French Center for Strategic Research (CFRS).

Analysis: Bin Laden, burqa ban put France in Qaeda crosshairs